Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has entered into an MoU with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to convert civil (passenger) aircraft into multi-mission tanker transport (MMTT) aircraft in India, the state-run aviation firm announced Wednesday, April 6.
After years of trying to buy mid-air refuellers for its military, India is now looking to convert existing Boeing 767 passenger aircraft into tankers.
Under the pact, HAL will convert civil aircraft into mid-air refuelling aircraft with cargo and transport capabilities. Sources said that the contract pertains to converting the Boeing 767 passenger aircraft, which is also used by the Italian and Japanese militaries.
“We are glad to join hands with our long-standing partner IAI in this venture of MMTT conversion business which is one of the strategic diversification avenues identified by HAL.”R Madhavan, CMD, HAL
The scope of MoU also covers “passenger to freighter aircraft” conversion along with MMTT conversions.
Boeing has a specialised tanker called KC-46 Pegasus, which is a variant of the Boeing 767. The conversion of passenger aircraft into cargo and tankers has been a lucrative business for IAI, which has emerged as a key player in this business.
“We are proud to come together with our counterparts to bring our best value MMTT solution in India while utilising local resources to manufacture and market the platform. By collaborating with HAL and bringing conversion directly to India, we are supporting the ‘Make in India’ campaign”.Boaz Levy, President and CEO, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)
Mid-air refuelling has been a critical capability gap for the IAF. This technology gives a fighter jet the ability to cover enhanced distances without having to land to refuel.
India currently uses six Russian Ilyushin-78 tankers, first inducted in 2003, but they are facing maintenance and serviceability issues.
There have been efforts underway to procure new mid-air refuellers, with both Boeing and Airbus in contention. India has been in talks with France to lease one A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) from the French Air Force for training purposes under a government-to-government deal.
The sources said leasing, for a limited period, is still being looked at, but there are no specialised tankers that will be bought. “It is much cheaper to convert passenger aircraft into tankers rather than buy new ones,” a source said.
India is looking at converting at least six aircraft into tankers. The development is a setback to Airbus, which had emerged as the frontrunner in the IAF’s plans to get mid-air refuellers.
Sources said while the contract in question is between HAL and IAI, Boeing will be a key component of any future programme to convert passenger aircraft into tankers since they are the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Lohia Aerospace Systems, part of the Lohia Group, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur, has a tie-up with the IAI through its Israeli subsidiary Light and Strong Ltd, which specialises in the production of aerospace and military carbon-fibre and glass-fibre composite components.
Aerial refuelling, also referred to as air refuelling, in-flight refuelling (IFR), air-to-air refuelling (AAR), and tanking, is the process of transferring aviation fuel from one military aircraft (the tanker) to another (the receiver) during flight.
The two main refuelling systems are probe-and-drogue, which is simpler to adapt to existing aircraft, and the flying boom, which offers faster fuel transfer, but requires a dedicated boom operator station.
Aerial refueling has been considered as a means to reduce fuel consumption on long-distance flights greater than 3,000 nautical miles. Potential fuel savings in the range of 35–40% have been estimated for long-haul flights (including the fuel used during the tanker missions).